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Going Back to College: Getting Started
(Continued from 2)

Once you have selected schools you are interested in, compare them using the following guidelines (we have provided a College Comparison Worksheet):

  1. Accreditation and the ranking/reputation of the college program. Be certain that the school is fully accredited, and if seeking federal student aid to help pay for your education, that the school participates in the Title IV student aid program. If interested in graduate school or an advanced degree, make sure the program is fully transferable and meets all requirements. To find information on the school's ranking and academic reputation, refer to college guides from the Princeton Review, U.S. News, and Kiplinger.
  2. What kind of financial aid is available, and if there are there specific scholarships targeted toward adult students. Are the college's tuition and expenses affordable? Is there a flexible payment or installment plan available?
  3. Does the college accept transfer credits? How many? Does it provide options for receiving college credit by examination, prior learning or work or life experience credit? To learn more about these options, see How to Accelerate Your Degree Plan.
  4. Courses are presented at acceptable times and formats. Are night and weekend courses available? How about distance learning (via the Internet, broadcast television, or correspondence courses)?
  5. Does the school offer accelerated courses or programs? Accelerated courses can cover a full semester's instruction in six or eight week formats. These programs are learning intense, but help to quickly attain college credit for degree completion.
  6. Campus office and academic advising schedules accommodate adult students. Make sure library, computer services, and academic tutoring are available at accessible times and professors are available after class hours.
  7. The college offers community and support for adult students. Ask the percentage of nontraditional student enrollment and if there are any social groups or services available. Ask if child care programs are offered if needed.

(See also Ten Questions to Ask Before Choosing a College or University and Choosing a Distance Learning Program.)

Complete any Testing and Admissions and Financial Aid Applications.
Once you identify schools offering programs you are interested in, visit their Web site or contact the admissions office for a course catalog and admissions application. Request a financial aid application from the financial aid office. Complete all the necessary testing and admissions and financial aid applications (including the FAFSA Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and send an offical copy of your prior transcripts to the school. (A transcript is a record of previous academic work. To request a copy, contact the high school or previous college(s) attended and request that an official copy be sent to the admissions office of the new college or university.) If you need your GED (General Educational Development) transcript, the American Council on Education offers assistance. (For information on getting your G.E.D. or high school diploma, see Adult Education/G.E.D./High School Diploma.)

Adult students usually aren't required to take admissions tests (i.e., the SAT Standardized Admissions Test or ACT American College Test), although they do need to take graduate admission tests such as the GRE Graduate Record Examination or GMAT Graduate Management Admission Test if attending graduate school. Many colleges offer a placement test instead of admission test scores for older students, and don't consider high school performance or outdated test scores, especially with transfer students from community colleges. (For frequently asked questions about the ACT and SAT, including old test scores, see the ACT and SAT Web sites.) For help in preparing for admissions or other educational testing, see Educational Testing Services and the Princeton Review. Information on college credit options (i.e. life experience credit and the CLEP (College Level Examination Program), is referenced in Testing and College Credit Options.

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